Aug 20, 2020

How Glamping Took Camping Mainstream

“Glamping”—a portmanteau combining the words “glamorous” and “camping”—gives travelers all the thrill of the great outdoors with none of the grit. Picture geodesic domes, tiny houses, or retro-style canvas tents decked out with portable speakers, catered meals, and real beds and toilets. These Instagram-friendly resorts come with built-in experiences like live music, wellness retreats, animal encounters, or access to hiking or garden trails. 

And it’s having a pandemic-fueled travel moment.

What Is Glamping, Anyway?

It’s the Disney version of what camping could be. 

Travelers seek a return to nature without having to actually rough it. “I grew up as a kid going camping,” Leo Ghitis, who owns a luxury glamping resort in Costa Rica, told Skift.  “At this stage in our lives, we like the nostalgia of camping but with all the conveniences and luxuries.”

While the word “glamping” is new, the concept isn’t. Glamping calls back to a nostalgia for the outdoors of the past—exploration, adventure, and simplicity. It’s no surprise that many glamping resorts in the US take their cues from luxury safari accommodations in Kenya or Tanzania. It’s peak “cottagecore:” a romantic escape from everyday life filled with meadows, berry picking, and scenery.

Accommodations themselves vary wildly from tiny cabins to safari-style tents, yurts, covered wagons, or Airstreams. But most resorts offer everything you would expect at a hotel—Wi-Fi (an essential, according to 55% of glampers), kitchens or restaurants, bathrooms, linens, turndown service, pools, hot tubs, spas, guided tours, or other experiences. 

No bugs, equipment, or rocky and dirty tents required.

The Glamping Market Forecast for 2020

Glamping is more popular than ever, projected to reach $4.8 billion by 2025, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.5% based on a report from Grand View Research, most of which is driven by millennials seeking to escape a primarily urban lifestyle. 30% of North American travelers glamped between 2017 and 2019. 

Graph showing US Glamping market size by age

Source: Grand View Research 

“We’ve been tracking glamping as an emerging travel trend for the past several years as we’ve seen growing demand for different types of glamping experiences,” Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO of KOA, told Curbed. “The results of this new research reinforce that North American travelers are in fact seeking different ways to experience the outdoors, even if they aren’t traditional campers.”

In March 2020, searches for more isolated and off-grid properties on UK glamping site Host Unusual surged by up to 45%, as well as searches for staycation-related bookings, in part from travelers looking for a safe travel outlet. “It appears that staycations are evolving, with a tendency toward more remote settings and standalone accommodation,” Host Unusual director Alex Wilson told The Guardian. “The key words here are isolation and exclusivity, away from crowds.”

Today’s travelers look for experiences off the beaten path, focusing on unconventional experiences they can share on social media. 67% of travelers see it as a more unique vacation experience. With a global pandemic, it’s also a very safe and accessible way for beginner campers, families, or cooped-up city folks to get a taste of fresh air.

Glamping is the New Luxury Hotel

In many ways, glamping is at the forefront of the next wave of luxury travel, particularly as COVID-19 shapes consumer preferences. Stays at glamping resorts can cost the same as a typical night in a hotel, if not more—popular brand Collective Retreats’s properties go for up to $700 a night. You can have complete spa experiences, in-tent air conditioning, a celebrity chef on site, and more, just as you would at a luxury hotel.

Hoteliers are already jumping on the glamping bandwagon. “We wanted to do something completely different and immerse guests in the environment without taking away the luxury,” Cameron D’Arcy, cofounder of glamping resort Sierra Escape, told Skift. “Thanks to the Instagram appeal, the product almost markets itself.”

It’s a much safer investment, too. “Investors in tented projects can expect to generate 20 to 40% more in revenues than their high-end brick-and-mortar counterparts, and construction costs can be up to 50% less,” Luca Franco, founder and CEO of Luxury Frontiers, told Skift. That doesn’t include tax benefits (since many resorts are taxed as campgrounds, rather than hotels) or lower staffing models.

It seems like new glamping resorts keep popping up nearly overnight in popular woodsy destinations like Maine, Colorado, and California. Many of these glamping resorts are new players. High-end Collective Retreats raised $18 million in 2018. Airstream startup Autocamp raised $115 million while cabin-focused Getaway raised a $225 million Series B in 2019. Another popular brand is Under Canvas, with locations near many national parks. 

“Hotel brands are so over-standardized, I’d often wake up in a new city not knowing where I was,” Collective Retreats CEO Peter Mack told Hotels Magazine. “I wanted to create a hospitality brand with a more authentic sense of place while at the same time reducing a lot of the inefficiencies and fixed costs.”

With the creation of the American Glamping Association, glamping is officially mainstream. 

Big names like Marriott have entered the market, offering luxury tents at music festivals like Coachella and opening their first glamping resort in Indonesia through subsidiary Tribute Portfolio. “Natra Bintan gives travelers the opportunity to experience the destination in a new and engaging way, by being up close with nature,” said Mike Fulkerson, vice president, Brand & Marketing, Asia Pacific in a 2019 press release. 

It seems like everyone is into glamping. As the pandemic continues to impact every aspect of American life, more and more campers will head out into the wilderness to attempt to stay away from as many other people as possible—with all the creature comforts, of course.

About the author

Kayla Voigt
Kayla Voigt
Always in search of adventure, Kayla hails from Hopkinton, MA, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can find her at the summit of a mountain or digging in to a big bowl of pasta when she's not writing. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.

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